02/23/2013 6:23PM

Fair Grounds: Mark Valeski accelerates after being hemmed in to take Mineshaft


NEW ORLEANS – Heartbreaking might be too strong a word for Mark Valeski’s Fair Grounds career before this weekend, but not by much. Second last month in the Louisiana Handicap. Second a year ago in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes. And – toughest of all to take – second by a half-length to 100-1 shot Hero of Order in the $1 million Louisiana Derby last April.

Saturday, at the top of the stretch in the Mineshaft Handicap, disappointment lurked again. As Mark Valeski strained to be given his head, his rider, Rosie Napravnik, could find no place to run. Hero of Order blocked any path along the rail. Golden Ticket was lapped on Hero of Order’s outside, giving no ground. A furlong from the finish, Napravnik could wait no more. She wheeled Mark Valeski outside the one-paced front-runners and Mark Valeski, as though intent avenging those narrow Fair Grounds losses, put the hammer down. In a few strides a furious run had carried him to the lead, and he finished with plenty of energy to hold clear onrushing Cool Street.

“We’ve seen him have that kind of turn of foot in the morning, but we hadn’t seen him use it yet in the afternoon,” said trainer Larry Jones.

Mark Valeski won by one length, with Cool Street, who had no pace at which to run, closing up very well for second. Golden Ticket finished a neck farther back in third, with Hero of Order edging Infrattini for fourth. Mark Valeski, the heavy favorite, paid $3.80 to win and was timed in 1:44.82 for 1 1/16 miles on a fast track.

Mark Valeski’s trouble came because of a slow Mineshaft pace: The opening quarter-mile went in a pedestrian 25.30 seconds, the half in 49.64. The leaders stacked up two by two, Hero of Order and Infrattini showing the way, Mark Valeski and Golden Ticket just behind them as the Mineshaft field wheeled around the far turn. Napravnik, pinned along the fence, said she likes to keep all options open in such circumstances. First she gently probed the rail, and, when that went nowhere, attempted to follow Infrattini.

“I was waiting for [Infrattini] to go on, and he really wasn’t going anywhere,” said Napravnik.

Plan C was to swing out and go outside everyone. It takes a talented horse to make such a late move, and Mark Valeski was up to the task. Winning for the fourth time in eight starts, he showed enough brilliance to suggest he can at least be an early-season player in more major races in the division, with the New Orleans Handicap his intended next start.

A 4-year-old by Proud Citizen, Mark Valeski was bred and is owned by former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones.